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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Introduction to Hoodoo

What is Hoodoo?

Hoodoo is a set of magickal practices originating in Africa which, through the process of syncretism, has absorbed some beliefs and practices from other cultures such as Native American spirituality and European Ceremonial Magick. In some cases, the word hoodoo can also refer to

  • A person who practices Hoodoo: Dr. Buzzard was a powerful hoodoo man.
  • The act of working magick itself: Someone is hoodooing you!

Additional words which are synonymous with Hoodoo include: conjure, witchcraft, rootwork.

Origin & Development

Hoodoo is believed to have originated with Africans who were brought to America as slaves, mainly in the Southeastern states where slavery was legal, and moved West across the nation. These men, women and children often arrived on American soil with very few personal possessions, if any at all. They did not bring their native herbs with them, and if they did those items were most likely taken away. The slaves found themselves in a place where they were considered the property of abusive slaveholders and they didn’t know anything about the herbs, plants and curios of this strange, new land. African and Native American slaves often found themselves working along side one another and it is believed that through this co-mingling the slaves learned a great deal about the medicinal and magickal uses of the herbs native to America.

As many slave-owners identified with Christianity, they often attempted to covert their slave workers--going so far as to forbid them to practice their religion under threat of death. In order to be able to practice their religion, the slaves expressed their beliefs under the guise of the dominant religion of their region. In the southeast, where people were mainly Protestant Christians (or one of its offshoots) the Dark Man of the Crossroads became identified with the Devil of Christianity. This example is cited as one of the many reasons that Christians believed that Africans worshipped the Devil, which itself was given as another reason for their desire to convert the slaves to Christianity.

In those areas where Catholicism was the dominant religion, such as New Orleans, hoodoo practices mingled with not only Catholicism but Vodoun (Voodoo) as well. In these instances, Christian Saints often became associated with the spirits and deities of Voodoo. For example, because St. Patrick was mythologicaly associated with snakes (having driven them out of Ireland) he became identified with the Voodoo deity called Damballah who often took the form of a serpent. Today, many people still confuse the magickal practices of Hoodoo with the religion of Voodoo.

In Northern states where African-Americans were, more-or-less, free they were introduced to European immigrants who came to American seeking religious freedom and who brought their own religious and folk-magic beliefs and practices, such as Pow-Wow, with them. It was through contact with these immigrants, and later through their writings, that Hoodoo absorbed elements of European Grimoires and Jewish Kabalistic magic and sorcery. 

Beliefs & Practices

As a result of the exposure to various beliefs and practices the religions of African slaves transformed into a hodge-podge of magickal practices identified as Hoodoo. Although Hoodoo is not a religion adherents often draw upon Christian mythology, however, some practitioners are just as likely to petition Ganesha or even Papa Legba to remove obstacles and open the way before them.

Even so, there are a few common beliefs that most practitioners of Hoodoo hold. They are:

  • Divine Providence- Most adherents of Hoodoo believe in some type of Higher Power to whom they direct their prayers and petitions. This power may simply be referred to as God or any number of deities or spirits from the world’s major religions. It is not unheard of for a practitioner to petition Hotei Buddha for prosperity in the morning, Santo Muerte for a lover in the evening, and Jesus for protection at night. These beings are believed to take an active interest in the affairs of humans and to have the ability to influence our lives.
  • Life After Death- Along with the belief in a Higher Power comes the belief in the continued existence of the soul after physical death. Many Root-Workers start out working with spirits of the dead in the form of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead connected to them by blood. It is believed that the dead don’t die, but rather ascend to another level of being, from which they can look on and assist us. From this higher level, the Ancestors can guide us in our daily lives, intercede with the Godhead on our behalf and protect us in times of need.
  • Divination- The ability to foretell the future and communicate with disembodied spirits is one of spiritual practitioner’s most important abilities. Divination allows the individual to analyze the past and present in order to determine the probability a future event(s). Divination teaches that by active participation in the events occurring in the life of a person, he or she can shift the probabilities towards their desired ends.
  • Doctrine of Signatures- A belief which holds that the Creator (i.e. God, the Universe, etc...) marked everything in existence with a sign, or signature, which indicates its intended use. Furthermore, by careful observation one can determine the uses of a plant from an aspect of its form such as the shape of its roots or leaves, its color, place of growing, or even its name.
  • Retributive Justice- Retributive justice is a theory of punishment based on the biblical principle of an “eye for an eye”. Unlike other religions which accept magick as part of its philosophy and adjure its adherents to “do not harm”, Hoodoo allows for an individual to not only protect themselves by magickal means but also to retaliate against those who have wronged them. However, in the case of the latter, the punishment must fit the crime.
  • Intention- In the Hoodoo Tradition, curses are seen as a wish which can only be fulfilled by God and only when the curse is deserved. For example, if you lay down a powder to curse one individual it will only have an effect on that individual an no one else who happens to walk over the powder.. Furthermore, it is believed that curses which are not justified or deserved have no effect (Proverbs 26:2). A curse which is both deserved and uttered by a person in authority, such as a rootworker, is said to never fail.
Carolina Dean 

See Also:

A Hoodoo Dictionary

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